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Colorectal Cancer and Disorders of the Colon (Large Intestine)
What is colorectal cancer:
Colorectal cancer includes cancers of the large intestine (colon) and the
rectum (the last few inches of the colon). Colorectal cancer
is the third most common cancer in the United States, only behind
breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. However, it is also one of the most preventable cancers. This is why
early detection is so important.
The chances of developing colorectal cancer increase with age and can
be impacted by dietary and smoking habits. People who are over 50
years of age are more likely to develop colorectal cancer. A diet with
high amounts of red meat (like beef), low fiber, and only small amounts
of fruits and vegetables may also be linked to colorectal cancer. Smoking
greatly increases the risk. According to the American Cancer Society,
compared to non-smokers, women who smoke are more than 40 percent more likely to die from colorectal cancer and men
who smoke are at a increased risk of 30 percent. Drinking one or more alcoholic
beverages a day can also increase the risk of colon cancer by
approximately a 70 percent. Finally, people who exercise less and are
obese are also at greater risk.
What are some signs of colorectal cancer?
Unfortunately, colon cancer is often painless so many people who have colorectal cancer are not aware that they have it. Signs and symptoms depend on how advanced the cancer is
and whether it has spread to other areas, such as the liver or lungs.
However, a change in your bowel habits (such asconstipation
or diarrhea) or a change in the caliber of your bowel movements (more
narrow or pencil shaped), indicates a need for testing.
Other signs include the following . . .
How is colorectal cancer detected?
- blood in stool
- dark, tar-like stool
- feeling of incomplete defecation
- weight loss
- night sweats
- feeling very tired all the time, pale skin or palpitations (this
could mean low levels of iron that you may be losing in your stool)
Colon cancer can be detected by many different ways, such as by physical
exam, blood work and lab tests, or a specialized procedure called a
colonoscopy. The physician can perform a digital rectal exam to look
for blood in the stool. However, this can only detect a small
percentage of colon cancer.
Another way to detect the disease is with a fecal occult blood test, or
FOBT. A small amount of stool is sent to the laboratory so that it can be tested to determine whether or not it contains blood. Though this test is more accurate than
the rectal exam, it is not the most thorough way to test for colorectal cancer.
One of the best ways to detect colorectal cancer is with a colonoscopy,
which is performed by a gastroenterologist or surgeon. In this
procedure, a narrow scope with a camera is inserted into the rectum and
colon to provide images that can depict signs of colorectal cancer,
such as polyps. The advantage of this procedure is that not only can
you detect the polyps, but you can also take a small piece of the colon
(called a biopsy) and examine it under a microscope to look for signs of
colorectal cancer. Not all polyps are cancerous. A biopsy can reveal
whether cancer is present.
How is colorectal cancer treated?
Treatment for colorectal cancer depends on how advanced the cancer is
and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Treatment includes
surgery to take out (or resect) the part of the colon or rectum in which
the tumor is located. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also
available as treatments.
At NYM, we offer a wide array of treatment options depending on the
stage of cancer and the preferences of the patient. A dedicated team of physicians,
surgeons, nurses, nutritionists and other support staff guide patients
through the entire process. Our surgeons provide multiple surgical
options, including minimally invasive surgery. Our team of
oncologists and radiation oncologists offers a wide array of
chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments designed to minimize side
effects and improve quality of life for patients and their family
For more information on colorectal cancer, click here.
Find a physician who specializes in treatment of digestive disorders here or call 866-DIGEST-1.
To contact NYM’s Division of Gastroenterology, call 718.780.3851.
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